The Family Mozart. Nannerl sings, Wolferl plays, Papa dominates.
I was fully immersed this lavish costume drama with elaborate sets and luscious music about
accomplished singer, harpsichordist and violinist Maria Anna “Nannerl” Mozart
is Wolfgang’s elder by five years and a musical prodigy in her own right
who also composes some wonderful music.
French writer-director Rene Feret’s film about the sister of the great composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
is grandly set in 18th-century pre-revolutionary France.
Written, directed and produced by René Féret, “Mozart’s Sister” is a re-imagined account of the early life of Maria Anna “Nannerl” Mozart (played by Marie Féret, the director’s daughter), five years older than Wolfgang (David Moreau) and a musical prodigy in her own right. Originally the featured performer, Nannerl has given way to Wolfgang as the main attraction, as their strict but loving father Leopold (Marc Barbe) tours his talented offspring in front of the royal courts of pre-French revolution Europe. Approaching marriageable age and now forbidden to play the violin or compose, Nannerl chafes at the limitations imposed on her, until a friendship with the son and daughter of King Louis XV offers an alternative.
Nannerl strikes a friendship with Princesse Louise de France (played by Marie Feret’s sibling, Lisa), who is one of the many illegitimate children of Louis XV. Louise with her sibling sisters have been banished to Fontevraud Abbey 250 km from Paris, while the sons, in contrast, remain at court. The two girls’ fates mirror each other as events shaped by the male-dominated world in which they live subvert their dreams. At Versailles, Nannerl comes into contact with the Dauphin of France (Clovis Fouin), the future Louix XVI, and a rather charming romance develops. However, the tone gradually darkens as the Dauphin becomes insanely intense.
We are transported by stagecoach through a winter wonderland,
to the grandeur of the Palace of Versailles and the more austere Abbey.
For 40 years, René Féret has been France’s most autonomous filmmaker, serving as his own writer, producer and even distributor. For Feret, Nannerl, Mozart’s Sister is clearly a labour of love, drawing on the talents of his daughters and those of his wife, Fabienne, as producer and editor, and their son, Julien, as his first assistant and in a small onscreen role. Feret was permitted to film at Versailles. Mozart’s Sister is beautifully shot with grand costumes and locations.
The music is a classical feast for viewers and central to the story. It is a wonderful companion to the film; from practice sessions, to salon performances including pure Mozart and fanciful pieces (by Marie-Jeanne Serero) portrayed as compositions by Nannerl, which she undoubtedly would have written but sadly did not survive her. Heather Cameron.
I thought this review by Philippa Hawker beautifully captured the film.
French director Rene Feret imagines, in an intriguing, deftly integrated mixture of biography and fantasy, realism and fairytale, what the world of this adolescent girl might have been like. Her name was Maria Anna and she was known within the family as Nannerl; she was five years older than her brother, musically gifted and part of the Mozart travelling show that went around Europe, astounding crowned heads, courtiers and fellow musicians. She was a virtuoso on the harpsichord and accompanied her brother; there is evidence, in his correspondence, that she composed music but sadly none of it survives.
When Mozart’s Sister begins, the father, Leopold (Marc Barbe) is taking the family – his compliant wife (Delphine Chuillot), 14-year-old Nannerl (played by Feret’s daughter Marie) and nine-year-old Wolfgang (David Moreau) – to perform at the French court. The coach in which they are travelling is damaged and they seek shelter in a nearby abbey. They discover that several of Louis XV’s younger daughters have been dispatched there, to live a cloistered existence far away from palace life and without any contact with their parents.
Nannerl strikes up a friendship with Louise (played by Lisa Feret, another of the director’s children), a year her junior – isolated, precocious, yearning for companionship. To her, the Mozart family seem almost ideal and she’s smitten with Nannerl, while what Feret shows us is a sense of warmth mixed with deprivation.
Leopold is focused on his son, on presenting Wolfgang to best advantage and highlighting his musical gifts and compositions. It is not a harsh portrait of the father, although it is clear his ambitions and restrictions tightly constrain Nannerl’s life. Women are not equipped to compose, Leopold says, and they should not play the violin – and Nannerl wants to do both. We also see the combination of intensity and playfulness with which the children embrace the musical life that is all they know – they might be drilled to perform for their supper but there’s a lovely, fleeting night-time scene in which they exuberantly sing harmonies together, then rush to the keyboard to work out the composition.
At Versailles, Nannerl comes into contact with the Dauphin (Clovis Fouin), the future Louix XVI, a seemingly remote and quietly tormented figure who is scandalised by his father’s sexual exploits. This is a more fanciful element of the story and it explores desire and repression in different terms;
Nannerl is required to disguise herself as a boy to speak to the Dauphin, a pretence that gives her a taste of freedom, a partial sense of a world not normally open to her. It also gives her, briefly, a licence for musical exploration.
I am now interested to know more about Nannerl and am interested to read In Mozart’s Shadow: His Sister’s Story by Carolyn Meyer